Just trust me...
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end…
… 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
36 Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterwards.’
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ 5Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 6Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’
8 Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’9Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you [you is plural] all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
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In Chapter 13, Jesus has told the disciples he is leaving them, that he will be betrayed, and that they cannot yet follow him. The scene is set for Chapter 14.
For many folk, Chapter 14 appears to contain three outrageous claims. It is these I wish to explore before sharing where I may go with this week's sermon.
Firstly: In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. Funeral services often use this as a comforting reading about life after death. For many folk claims of life after death are a nonsense which avoids the reality of death.
Secondly: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Indeed, Chapter 13 specifically rules out "the Jews" from going where Jesus is going. On the surface there is an exclusivism that claims absolute superiority over other religions. Again, nonsense and rightly offensive, (and racist) to many people today.
Finally, Jesus says: Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these… 13I will do whatever you [plural] ask in my name. Anyone with an unanswered prayer will find a superficial reading of this verse patently false.
We can add to these three points the fact that the set verses for this week use the word Father for God 13 times. Someone with an abusive human father may find nothing but trauma in these verses. It may well be that the loving father of a family reflects a loving God in a way which quite contradicts the image of God based around a potentate or Emperor; that is, it is a deep religious insight into the nature of a God like Jesus, who loves us, and invites us into life. God is not the dictator potentate we may have imagined. But pastorally, the reading may simply be too toxic to unpack (yet) in some situations.
I think the reading has material for deep reflection, and for great comfort, in the right circumstances. But I wonder if we open the pages of John too lightly. I find myself with some sympathy for those groups who reserve certain of their sacred texts for initiates who have achieved, or been given, a certain level of maturity. Such an "undemocratic" suggestion is itself scandalous to much current thinking, and indeed, I am suspicious of such organisations, but forty years a Christian, I still find myself out of my depth in John's Gospel. Yet I am encouraged by my denominational prayer book to use this reading in a necessarily short homily, for folk in deep distress, who may be attending their first ever Christian worship service! Is that sensible or responsible?
John was not written to them. It was written to, and from the experience of, a community whose core principles include the charge "love one another as I have loved you." The command to love each other brackets the reading for this week. (13:1, 14-15, 34, 14:15) It was a community which understood it was called to love to the end— to death— (John 13:2) and is marked by deep sacrificial ties, and by immersion in a shared world view. Some of our Sunday worship struggles to reach this level of community; I know too little of it, myself.
John is written by; that is, from within, and to, a community which is under threat. Society is ruled by the Empire of Rome and its collaborators. In the context of John's community, the collaborators are called Judeans. (tois ioudaios) They are the Jewish folk who find life works best with a certain amount of collaboration with the over-lords; a collaboration which the first Christians (and many other Jews) felt was an absolute betrayal of their allegiance to God. (I've expanded on this here)
John also witnesses to something else with the phrase tois ioudaios. After the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70, the lay Pharisee movement preserved a faith that could easily have been destroyed along with its temple. The harsh criticism of the Pharisees in John, is witness to the hostility between two ways of being a faithful Jew; following the way of Jesus, and following the way of the Pharisees. John is deeply hostile to his Pharisee competitors who, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see were faithful to God. We should not follow those who use John as an excuse for antisemitism; also known as racism. And, in truth, it is likely that John did think some Jewish folk were excluded from relationship with the Father; we need to own this.
Beginning to find a way
According to the Jesus Seminar, John does not contain the direct words of Jesus. The gospel is the reflection of John's community on their experience of Jesus; specifically, it reflects upon their continued experience of what they identified as the presence of Jesus of Nazareth who had been crucified. These people witness to what they took to be the resurrection of Christ, they witness to the living presence of Christ, and they witness to a deep relationship with God through him.
18 ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. (John 14)
So John's gospel is not mere reportage of Jesus; it is deep, lived reflection upon his words, his life, and his death.
It is insistent upon our limited grasp of the mystery we call God: the wind/spirit blows where it chooses. (John 3:7) This is pointed out to a Pharisee (who later becomes a follower of Jesus) who is told of eternal life, which refers to life which is much more than merely endless; it is a state of being, or a way of relating to God, which can be tasted now. It is the abundant life (John 10:10) which the community of John who sought to love each other as Jesus had loved them, were experiencing.
There are also Pharisees present in John Chapters 9 and 10, the story of the man born blind. They do not fare well.
In its original setting the text [of Chapter 9 and 10, all part of the same conversation] is incredibly savage: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy." Matthew said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves." (Mt. 23:15) The authors reflect the battle of the new community against the old.
In the wider context, these verses suggest that life lived by strict rules, by right belief, and by the keeping of a gate around God, is deadly. It means our sin remains; (John 9:41) that is, our very attempt to hold the Divine in a box for our own existential insurance fences us off from God.
Because the man who had been blind follows Jesus, he is led into life; into abundant life. He sees the imposter gate-keepers for what they are and can pass by them.
How can we have our eyes open to abundant life? There is a great tragedy in the text of John, for the Pharisees think they have their eyes open. They think they can see. They know they are living the life. To be a Pharisee is to be self-deceiving. (One Man's Web)
We are well warned, therefore, about using John 14 to exclude people from God's love. When John attacks the Pharisees it is also a warning to his own folk about the dangers of exclusive and simplistic attitudes to life. We should ask, "Am I like that?" And we should note that John has stereotyped the Pharisees; I suspect that Judaism would not have survived to this day unless there were many spiritually alive Pharisees like Nicodemus.
My Father's house (14:1) is a phrase also used in John Chapter 2.
The only other place in John where we find the phrase "my Father's house" (14:2) is in John 2:16, followed by a significant dialogue about the Temple (2:18-21):
He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" ... The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking of the temple of his body.
This is a crucial Passage for understanding John 14:2. Jesus is not talking about going to prepare places in heaven for us. That's not his Father's house. Jesus is going to change the location of his father's house from the Temple to the Body of Christ -- Jesus first, and his disciples to follow. The many abiding places in God's house is us. This is made clear by the Vine and Branches passage that follows soon after. Jesus abides in the Father and the Father in him. Jesus abides in us, and we in him. This passage is not about going to heaven. It's about spiritual abiding as the foundation of "eternal life" -- better translated as "life in God's new age." (Paul Nuechterlein I have added the emphasis.)
This was still exclusive; it said God had abandoned Jewish people of the Pharisaic tradition for the Christians!
To be fair, that exclusiveness was understandable in a community under attack from others. For John's folk there was only one way to life. They experienced the Pharisaic disciplines as blinding and suffocating. Indeed, even today, where mammon and empire seek to conscript us, only a deliberate, concerted, focussed attention to the wind/spirit will allow us to enter fully into its riches. This demands a certain kind of exclusivity. But the damning of others, and excluding them from the love of God, betrays a shallow understanding of spiritual life.
We have learned something of the truth discovered by other visions of reality. Herbert Fingarette said
It is [our] special fate [to have] a "choice" of spiritual visions. The paradox is that although each requires complete commitment for complete validity, we can today generate a context in which we see that no one of them is the sole vision. Thus we must learn to be naïve but undogmatic. That is, we must take the vision as it comes and trust ourselves to it, naïvely, as reality. Yet we must retain an openness to experience such that the dark shadows deep within one vision are the mute, stubborn messengers waiting to lead us to a new light and a new vision . . . We must not ignore the fact that in this last analysis, commitment to a specific orientation outweighs catholicity of imagery. One may be a sensitive and seasoned traveler, at ease in many places, but one must have a home. Still, we can be intimate with those we visit, and while we may be only travelers and guests in some domains, there are our hosts who are truly at home. Home is always home for someone; but there is no Absolute Home in general. (Quoted by Robert Bellah)
I remain Christian because of the writings of a Buddhist author who showed me a way through philosophical and theological dead ends. I returned to active ministry within the Uniting Church because of the witness of my Muslim friend, Fata. My Hazarra neighbours' grace and generosity enlivens my soul. But all this is necessarily experienced and processed through the story of Jesus, and the imagery of the Christian church. It's where I live.
All I would achieve by abandoning that imagery, or what Fingarette called naiveté, is that I would construct a new religious language and imagery. If it were to mean anything, and have any depth, it would necessarily in some sense still exclude those who had not "entrusted" themselves to it. But that does not mean it would have the whole truth!! I can lean over the fence and ask Hussein how things look from his backyard, but I must live in my own home.
Life is deep, and the depths can only be entered by the discipline and practice of a particular imagination, or home.
In A New Kind of Christianity, Brian McLaren says of John 14
To me, the dynamic core of this passage leaps out here in verse 9, not back in verse 6: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Here the irony becomes nearly unbearable (to me at least), as we contrast this statement with the conventional interpretation of verse 6. Jesus says in verse 9 that the invisible God has been made visible in his life. “If you want to know what God is like,” Jesus says, “look at me, my life, my way, my deeds, my character.” And what has that character been? One of exclusion, rejection, constriction, elitism, favoritism, and condemnation? Of course not! Jesus’s way has been compassion, healing, acceptance, forgiveness, inclusion, and love from beginning to end — whether with a visiting-by-night Pharisee, a Samaritan woman, a paralyzed man, a woman caught in adultery, or a man born blind.
But our conventional interpretation of verse 6 seems to say, “Forget all that. Forget everything you’ve seen in me, the way I’ve lived and treated people, the way I’ve accepted prostitutes and tax collectors, the way I’ve welcomed outsiders and rejects. Forget all that. Believe, instead, that God will reject everyone except people who share your doctrinal viewpoints about me, because I won’t let anyone get to the Father unless they get by me first by joining my new religion.” It makes me want to cry, or groan, or scream.
“If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” Jesus says, but our conventional interpretation of John 14:6 turns this all upside down: “Reinterpret me in light of your old tribal, chauvinistic, exclusive, elitist views of God and religion. In place of circumcision and dietary laws to exclude the outsiders, now substitute mental markers or belief markers about me.” Once this alternative understanding hits you, once you see it, it’s truly heart-breaking that John 14:6 can be used the way it so commonly is. (pp. 223-24) Quoted by Paul Nuechterlein
So, despite its history, the text does not speak of the lostness of people who are not Christians. Rather, it tests the depth of Christians' meeting with their Christ! If we use Jesus' words to exclude, we are still standing in the shallows of life. Carl Gregg quotes Spong' s sharp reminder of all this: “I walk the Christ-path into the mystery of God, but I do not believe that God is a Christian.”
What then does the text say if we do live deeply "in our own home" or "walk the Christ-path into the mystery of God?"
It addresses the unexpected, and inexplicable death of Jesus. We've become used to the idea of his death, but it goes completely against our society's view of the hero. How can the one who brings us into the presence of God be killed in the most savage and demeaning manner? What kind of saviour is that?
The text address Jesus' physical absence: He's saved you, but he's not even here!! And the text addresses the raw pain we still feel today from the apparent absence and silence of God in much of life.
There are two key verses here. In Chapter 16 he says
7Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)
There are aspects of human life, and life with God, which cannot flourish unless we are absent from Jesus.
The other verse is this:
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. (John 13:34)
The call to love as he loves us brackets our reading in Chapter 14. Deep humanity is dependent on our corporate life together. Deep humanity can exist only in this corporate, laying down of one's life, kind of love. And it must happen among us, from us, by us, and freely. Deep humanity must go out on its own in the same way as a child goes out on her own from home. It must stand somewhat apart from Jesus/God, similar to how we interact with good parents, as we grow into adulthood.
And so he says, Trust me… in the life with God, there are many safe places to camp on the way as you leave home. The "many dwelling places" of the text are monai.
Monai actually means a temporary resting place for a traveller. It was associated with caravans. In those days, there would be a contingent of folks who would go ahead of the caravan to "prepare a place" so that when the caravan arrived there, the camp ground had been prepared, the water supply located, and food prepared. The travellers in the caravan would have a place of comfort to spend the night.
Monai is less about getting some fancy digs in the hereafter… and more about welcome, hospitality, and community for people traveling on a journey. (John Petty)
The text is about promise. Thomas says about this journey that they do not know the way to the Father. John Petty says,
When Jesus had announced, in chapter 11, that he was returning to the Jerusalem area, a place of danger, Thomas fatalistically declares that they might as well go with Jesus and "die with him" (11:16). Thomas knew "the way" that led to death well enough, but not "the way" that leads to life.
Jesus spells it out. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." Earlier in the fourth gospel, we were told that Jesus is truth (1:14), and "the resurrection and the life" (11:25). Now, he is also "the way" itself. (John Petty)
I am the way the truth and the life… I have shown you the way to live. I have shown you the Father. I have shown you what God is like. Trust me; live like me; I will look after you. God will not abandon you.
The text is a challenge for insiders, for the Christians, not a statement of exclusion of others. It asks us if we are Phillip: Show us the Father and we will be satisfied, said Phillip. He's the one who was sure there would not be enough food in John 6:7:
In his only two utterances in the fourth gospel, Philip is portrayed as fussing that what they have is not enough. The food had not been enough, and now Jesus is not quite enough either. (John Petty)
Do you still not know me, Phillip? Am I still not enough for you? Trust me: this way of living means you will enter a depth of experience, you will do something as human beings that even I have not yet done! If you will keep my commandments, if you will love one another, you can be a community, you can be human, in a way that surpasses everything which humanity has done so far!
And so we come to the third outrageous claim. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
A superficial reading can only find this statement false. God is notable for not answering our prayers. And much of what is said about prayer implies God is into the elitism and favouritism that Jesus contradicts.
Yet if we take John seriously, the statement "14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it," is in some way the lived experience of the community!
The requests spoken of in the text are in the context of "the works that I do," and in the context of a community of love, and its praying. Jesus did not suggest we should ask, contra Janis Joplin's song, for a Mercedes Benz to keep up with the Porsches.
John is talking about something far deeper than grasping prayer for things. But he speaks of a community which I have not yet found, and of an experience which is not quite mine. Intellectually, I cannot find a way to honestly affirm the truth of the text.
Prayer which acknowledges God, and prayer which is thankful to God, places me in an appropriate relationship to the mystery which is God. Richard Beck describes it like this:
In prayer we (quite literally) kneel and open our hands to God, eccentrically receiving from God our lives, identities, and everything we presume to “possess.” Prayer is letting go, surrendering, opening up. Prayer is that posture—in action, word, or silence—where we do not possess anything but receive our lives as gift. The eccentric identity of Jesus is practiced and enacted when we open our hands and pray, as he prayed, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (The Slavery of Death pp104)
The Love which Jesus shows us— the gift— surely welcomes the cries of those who suffer. It is the same Love, after all, which says, "Trust me, there will be a place along the way… many places."
When we pray together in our lostness, and voice our concerns for each other before God, the prayer which asks from God makes sense. In many ways, I'm not even looking for an answer to such prayers. They are, as much as anything, my response to having found places along the way. They witness to my gratitude for the fact that life does seem to have a meaning and a way, and they express my love to those who walk with me.
The Sermon Draft
Which brings me to this week's sermon. (Updated 13-05-2017. It references the Martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 7:55, and seeks to remember the diversity of Christian experiences.)
Sometimes we could say, "I don't want to get stoned, but at least things were happening for Stephen.
'They saw that his face was like the face of an angel… and it says … filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.'
At least Stephen was experiencing the presence of God."
This is a huge contrast to where some of us live. I had a conversation recently where we talked about what could be described as the utter desolation of life;
the kind of experience where life drags on,
where nothing gets better, and doesn't look like it will get better,
and where you can't see any reason for living.
When we're in a place like that, it just doesn't seem that there is any kind future.
I think many people live in this desolate place, or, at least, on its edges; Henry Thoreau said "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." Many of us are reluctant to look more closely at the desperation which dogs us, fearful that we may discover a great emptiness in the life we have been living.
In that conversation I talked about how I survive my desolation:
- How I get up at 6 o'clock in the morning, and a follow strict and regular schedule.
- I talked about how even though I could work from home, and do most of my computing work remotely, I ride the 30 kilometres into work, and then ride this same 30 kilometres home again, 2 or 3 times a week, rain or shine, because it keeps me healthy. It thrusts me into silence, and into emptiness, it keeps me from the distraction of Facebook or other drugs. It holds back the pointlessness that seems to want to destroy me. It keeps me alive— seriously.
- I talked about writing the lectionary commentary I publish, doing it week after week, even when I begin with nothing to celebrate about life or faith. It keeps me alive, too.
Sometimes, this almost mechanical, forced doing is sheer grind which makes the desolation, and the despair, and the depression hardly bearable, but simply keeps me alive.
There are two things I can say about it:
- Over time, it has led me into joy; into what Jesus called abundant life back in Chapter 10 of John. Sometimes, the beauty and the profundity of life overwhelms me.
- But… high joy, and certainty of faith, do nothing to stop the desolation rolling back in, a few days later. I've had to learn that that's how life is… for me.
It was a pretty rough and frank conversation. I think some folk were surprised to hear that ministers would have to live with this kind of desolation! We used vocabulary that you don't normally hear in church. It was appropriate language because it bore true witness to the painful realities of a life where both meaning, and God, can seem absent.
Now, here's the thing about this conversation: we were having a spiritual conversation. It dealt with the reality of human life, and human existence. Spirituality is not some fancy, airy fairy, pious thing; it's about dealing with the gritty reality of life, and how we live it, and how we survive it.
The person who lives through a long hard time is just as much a martyr of the faith as a Stephen. That's because a martyr, first of all, is a witness; someone who trusts God, even though God seems absent. Some folk speak of frequent experiences of God; that's a witness too.
But did you notice that even though Stephen had a vision of heaven, God did not save him? There is a s sense in which Stephen endured life to the end, on his own.
Each life is different.
In John Chapter 14, John is imagining a conversation between Jesus and the disciples. It's a conversation that's not likely to have happened in the way he's written it down; he's imagined it after the fact of Jesus leaving them.
He's imagined how Jesus would speak to the pain of his people who are trying to live faithfully in his absence, who are trying to live faithfully in the presence of persecution, and who are trying to live faithfully in all the pain of life. "How can we go on?" they ask. "How can we live like this? What can we trust? Where is God for us? What's the point?"
We can put ourselves in this imaginary conversation; it includes us. Because we are disciples, we are there in the room with Jesus having this conversation about how to live today, in the times when God seems absent.
We can have this conversation even if some of our friends or contemporaries tell us that we don't really understand God at all. Jesus is speaking to us even though others may tell us that "If you really understood God, and if you really knew Jesus, then everything would be fine and happy, and you would have no problems, and God would be plainly present in your life."
If the mass of humanity lives a life of quiet desperation, there's a fair chance that some of those folk who tell us everything is just peachy, are… well… pretending… because it's too hard and too painful to own up— even to themselves— to the emptiness and the loneliness. Not to mention too hard to face the sense of failure that gets heaped on us when we are not happy and triumphant all the time.
Richard Beck says that in church,
We all appear to be doing just fine, thank you very much.
But we know this to be a sham, a collective delusion driven by the fear of death. I’m really not fine and neither are you. But you are afraid of me and I’m afraid of you. We are neurotic about being vulnerable with each other. We fear exposing our need and failure to each other. (The Slavery of Death pp111)
He is speaking truth.
The lead up to John Chapter 14, is in John Chapter 13, where Jesus makes it very clear he is leaving. He also makes it very clear, in Chapter 16, that unless he leaves, the Spirit cannot come to us.
Now, of course, the Spirit of God is here all the time. The sending of the Spirit John is talking about, is our being able to become conscious of the presence of the spirit of God with us— even when, on the face of it, God seems absent.
He is saying that if we are going to enter deeply into the life of God, if we going to become fully human, if we going to experience the abundant life into which the shepherd of the sheep leads us— that's last week in Chapter 10— then we have to live with a certain absence of God.
We have to live like the child who leaves home and comes to the city and lives without mum and dad. Otherwise we will never quite grow up as a human being.
When I was in Agricultural School at University— we were near the end of our course— one of the lecturers asked a friend if he was going home to take over the farm from dad. My friend said, "No, Grandpa hasn't let Dad have a go at running the farm yet."
In a very real sense, Dad had not been allowed to grow up yet!! John has understood that the apparent absence of God is what makes us deeper people. Which might seem like cold comfort when we are on our own, and homesick for God, and can't see a future.
For some folk, God seems to be present a lot. This sermon probably doesn't make sense to them. But for others of us, the kind of close, easy, untroubled, non-doubting relationship with God which some people seem to have, just doesn't happen. It's not how life is. All I found from beating myself up and trying to make that kind of life happen is that it made me shallow and sick.
[To explore this difference you could read up on Summer Christians cf. Winter Christians: Mike Cope, Richard Beck and also read about Theological Worlds, Richard Beck]
So how do we live?
John uses the image of the house of God which has many rooms. It's been made a little bit shallow for us, because we have been taught to hear it only as saying there is a place for us in heaven when we die. Which is great! But the image actually has a wider and richer meaning than that!
The words "My Father's House," when used in John's gospel, refer to the place God lives; and John says that place is the church, the community of Jesus' people.
And the word we so often translate as the room in the Father's house more accurately means a stopping place. It was used for the camping places used by the camel caravans of Jesus and John's time.
Jesus was saying, Trust me. Even though I seem to be absent, on your way through life, when you live in the community of love, there will be many places to stay… to be at rest… and to meet my love.
Thomas said "But we don't know the way!" Jesus said, "Yes you do— I am the way. Try to live and love like me, and you will find I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life. I'm the one who shows you what God is like. You will meet God in me.
Now there's a famous bit in the gospel of John, right up near the end, where Jesus tells Peter that, he, Peter, would also be crucified, one day. Peter's not real happy about this, and says to Jesus, "Well what about that other disciple over there? What will happen to him?" (Chapter 21)
Jesus' reply can sound harsh: "22Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’"
This is how life is. We are who we are. Life is where we are.
I have a friend who is a bit gobsmacked that I ride so much, and keep such a strict schedule. Why is it that if you don't do this, you end up feeling like life is totally empty, and like life has no point to it, she wonders? It's just how my life is.
For her part, she has a recurrent illness which sails in without notice, and puts her in bed for six months here, and six months there; she can barely stand up. It's just how life is. Life hits us in different ways. And it hits everyone, even those who pretend everything is just wonderful.
John is telling us that the only answer to life is to try to follow Jesus, and to do what we must do to stay healthy and to get through; that's being spiritual. That's the grind that often doesn't look at all spiritual, but which trusts Jesus that there will be stopping places, places of relief, places where we meet God.
I can't tell you how many there will be. I can't tell you what they will be like for you. I can only witness that in the middle of my life struggles, I have found times and places which are good, and where the universe sings. It's made all the difference to how I see things.
Trust Jesus for a way to live. Amen.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!
Previously on One Man's Web
John 14: Trust God? Stop Whinging - A Sermon
John 14:1-14 - Meeting Jesus in John
John 14:1-14 - My not invisible friend
John 14:1-14 - The Place is the Way
You can find more reflections on biblical texts on the Lectionary page.